Can We Reverse Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance remains a major concern around the world, and the race is on to find new sources of this vital treatment. Now, growing research suggests that our current antibiotics could be saved.

Two studies from Bristol University — the first published this month in the “Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy” – zero in on beta-lactamases, or the enzymes produced by some bacteria. These proteins in turn provide resistance to a number of key antiobiotics, such as penicillin and cephamycin.

The initial study examined precisely which mechanisms affect antibiotic resistance in this class of bacteria, and researchers identified two key ingredients in this process.

The researchers first observed how bacteria have evolved to prevent antibiotics from penetrating their cell walls. They also examined how bacteria create the enzyme beta-lactamase. This enzyme actively destroys antibiotics that manage to enter the bacteria’s cells. Out of these two investigations, beta-lactamase production proved to be the most significant part of antibiotic resistance.

This suggests that if researchers were able to stop — or at least strongly reduce — beta-lactamase production, they might be able to reverse antibiotic resistance in this class of bacteria, allowing our antibiotics to be effective once again.

In the second study, published in the journal “Molecular Microbiology“, the research team explored the effectiveness of two enzyme inhibitors on Klebsiella pneumonia. This bacteria has proved strongly resistant to our common antibiotics, so scientists identified it as a prime candidate for the study.

Unfortunately, researchers found that two of the leading inhibitors failed to provide consistent protection.

When the researchers matched two inhibitors — avibactam and a bicyclic boronate — with the antibiotic aztreonam, they observed that those inhibitors worked well at combating enzyme production. In fact, after using this combination, the scientists discovered that the mix killed one of the most resistant bacteria known to cause severe infections in people with compromised immune systems.

In essence, this research builds on previous hopes that our existing crop of antibiotics could be rescued — and that’s an exciting prospect.

Dr. Matthew Avison, senior researcher for both studies, explained:

Our bacteriology research has further demonstrated that β-lactamases are the real “Achilles heel” of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that kill thousands of people in the UK every year. … Our work shows that avibactam might more successfully be deployed with aztreonam instead of ceftazidime as its antibiotic partner. We are delighted to see that this combination has entered clinical trials, and has recently saved the life of a patient in the USA who was suffering from a previously untreatable infection.

Dr. Avison added, “This is an exciting time for researchers studying β-lactamase inhibitors. At the risk of sounding like King Canute, it is the first time for a decade that there is some genuine positivity about our ability to turn back the rising tide of β-lactam antibiotic resistance.”

But using beta-lactamase inhibitors to fight antibiotic resistance isn’t a magic bullet that would eliminate our concerns. After all, resistance comes in several forms and not all bacteria produce beta-lactamase. And additional studies will be required to observe beta-lactamase inhibitors perform in clinical settings.

In addition, these findings should not detract from the fight against over-reliance on antibiotics in our health care system and the farming industry.

Nevertheless, the idea that we could potentially reverse antibiotic resistance in some cases might be a crucial component in this battle, even as we search for new antibiotics that can protect us from disease.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

47 comments

hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN h5 months ago

tyfs

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris5 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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Sue H
Sue H5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Ruth S
Ruth S5 months ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S5 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M6 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M6 months ago

Thanks.

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hELEN h
hELEN h6 months ago

tyfs

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R8 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R8 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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